Is the art market entering a new era? Statistics seem to support this observation, and for artists and collectors, gallerists and museums, appraisers and auction houses, the news is met with excitement. The rise in art appreciation reflects the international and digital movements found in other aspects of everyday life, where the world truly becomes smaller and more intimate, and history and culture are respected and celebrated as a result. But can we call this a “breakthrough?”

We can look at trends from recent years as a method to establish a pattern, but there is more to the world of art collecting than simple numbers. We must also consider the creativity which is shared more easily when technology connects us, as well as the differing speeds at which countries grow economically and thus, placing more emphasis on some of the intellectual and idyllic activities which reflect success. Some of the new findings are surprising, while others may simply indicate the cyclical nature of the art world.

Diversification of Artists and Art Collectors

There have been gains and losses in recent years in the art market, which is typical of the cyclical nature. However, there has been an increase in the diversification of the art industry, wherein the concentration of markets has been somewhat diluted. Although we still see growth in several of the more traditional markets of the US and the UK (42% and 20% of market share, respectively), there is a move toward the expansion of local/regional markets found in relatively unknown places, like the growth in Mumbai, India, Taipei, Taiwan, and even in Havana, Cuba.

By opening these markets up to well-known galleries, new collectors have entered the market, and local craftsman have benefitted from the new accessibility never seen before. They now have an audience for their creative works, and larger satellite galleries can bring these heritage works to the international world.

Increase in Participation in Art Auctions (in person and online)

The auction division of the art market had been in a sort of “funk,” experiencing two years in a row of reduction  (down 10% in 2015 and 23% in 2016), and the Chinese market led the way to an impressive return to the black in 2017, sporting a 40% growth. This shift is even more impressive when one considers that this was felt in both Western and Chinese markets, which have in the past not aligned.

Not only are art auctions in general buzzing with activity, but this movement is seen in all price levels, indicating that art collectors with budgets of all sizes are actively participating. Growth is often led by the upper echelon of price points, but it is now being felt throughout the price range, likely due to the growing demand for photographs and works on paper.

Development of the Modern Art Market

Although one can see variations indicative of, and unique to, certain areas, the growth of non-traditional markets has allowed the international art market to spread and “gray” a little. As collectors expand their own markets to include art fairs (growing every year) and online purchases, no longer will they focus on a specific market to buy and sell works. The value of the art market to economies cannot be denied, either. In the US alone, the arts in general contributed over $763 billion to the US economy, providing validation and incentive for new collectors to enter the market and experience collectors and museums to expand their inventories.

With the US and Chinese art markets neck in neck, it is China that comes out the clear winner, owing to its more impressive turnover. This is a multi-faceted achievement, and represents development not only economically, but in the evolution of art collection in Asia thanks to the outstanding growth of Western museums and galleries throughout the region.

Geography-Based Variations in the Market

In addition, the blossoming number of Asian billionaires is poised to drive these art collectors to become trendsetters in the art world. The creative works found in Asia have assisted these collectors in developing tastes often very different from Western collectors, driving the demand for heritage arts in their home countries. In December 2017 in Beijing, a series of twelve works by Qi Baishi brought $140 million, more than double the previous record of $66 million in 2011 and capturing the record for the highest price in Asia.

The US was certainly no slouch in 2017, experiencing a larger number of transactions than ever before. And one thing is universal: art sales records can and will be broken anywhere. At Christie’s in New York,  Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi fetched $450 million. It appears that US collectors aren’t giving up the #1 spot without a fight.

Where the US is lacking is filled by Europe: the highest percentage of Top 500 Artists reside there. Hundreds of years of artist support and an art-centric culture mean something! Asia stands in second place with 33% of artists, paying homage to the unique cultures found throughout the region which result in an immense variety of art styles and methods not found elsewhere.

Economic Impact—How Will These Numbers Affect the Future?

The statistics don’t lie, but as we have pointed out, they don’t often paint the whole picture. The availability of data and worldwide nature of art collecting allows the players to adjust their strategy quickly. The leading auction houses, including powerhouses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and Asian houses Poly Auction and China Guardian are already making changes, diversifying their inventory and being “everything” to “every buyer,” offering pieces in all price ranges.

The future is bright for art professionals who can work in volume and keep a finger on the heartbeat of collectors. A mature understanding of contemporary art has given leaders in the market an advantage in locating and providing to buyers a vast quantity of works, while museums are proving to be savvy in their purchasing, considering long-term benefits vs. simply acquiring high-end pieces. Individual investors, too, can take the information gathered over the last 5, 10, even 20 years, to create a portfolio of art investments.

Sybaris Collection is driven to find exquisite works of art from all over the world. Let our expert curators help you find works which reflect your taste, budget, and investing needs. From paintings to sculptures, photographs to works on paper, we can help you create a collection which you can be proud of.